It isn’t every day that a rookie is forced into a starting role on the Pittsburgh Steelers defense, but that is exactly what happened when the Steelers released veteran James Harrison and selected Jarvis Jones in the first-round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Jones came into camp wearing a SEC Player of the Year tag that absolutely had fans of the Steelers ready to see what their star studded first-round draft pick had in store for them. To say that fans were disappointed would be an understatement. By season’s end, some were calling Jones a bust as a first-round draft pick. Jones wears the No. 95 for the Steelers but certainly did not resemble Greg Lloyd who made that number popular from that same position in the 1990s.
To say Jones was underwhelming in his rookie season is an understatement when you look at the statistics. Jones played a portion of every game for the black and gold this season, and his numbers are dismal. Jones accounted for 40 combined tackles, zero interceptions, zero forced/recovered fumbles and one sack. Yes, the NCAA Division 1 “sack master” had one sack going up against NFL competition.
Jones not only failed to put up the numbers, but he also looked confused and lost at times in specific situations, especially when dropping back into pass coverage to cover crossing receivers or tight ends. On top of the performance, Jones doesn’t look like the typical outside linebacker for the Steelers. Compared to the players like Harrison, Joey Porter, LaMarr Woodley, Jason Gildon and even Clark Haggans who have roamed the position in past years, Jones is extremely undersized. Jones also was unable to bull rush the much bigger and more athletic tackles in the NFL. He wasn’t just unable to get to the quarterback; he wasn’t even able to pressure the quarterback.
So, the question still remains: Is Jones the answer for the Steelers at the outside linebacker position? It’s simply too early to tell. As poor as Jones played his rookie season, it is still his rookie season. Coming from the University of Georgia where the team asked Jones to simply get after the quarterback on every down, he now has a myriad of responsibilities within the Steelers 3-4 defense that is all foreign to the young linebacker. Jones has a lot of work to do in terms of getting himself ready to compete in the NFL, but it is still too early to deem Jones a bust.
With the writing on the wall that Jones will be the starter at the outside linebacker position next season as Jason Worilds or Woodley are destined to depart Pittsburgh, it will be a much better gauge of Jones’ potential when he is given the tag of “starter” without the fear of losing his job. Jones’ play improved as the season progressed, but it will need to progress much faster and lead to production for the Steelers and their fanbase to be satisfied with the first-round selection.